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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

I have, before this, spoken of the eventual irrelevance of ‘religion’ in the affairs of the human species. It may not seem to be near at hand and neither is it, but I believe its gradual marginalization is a historical trend, and it must die out ultimately when men will have no use for it.  Surprisingly, its staunchest proponents are the ones who perceive this clearly, and never cease to find out absurd ways and means to stem this inexorable tide. The plea before the Indian Supreme Court by a section of the Muslim community to allow veiled women to be photographed (with veils on) for voter’s ID cards is one such example of absurdity and desperation. (Click here for the story.) The Supreme Court has rightly dismissed such pleas with the comment that those Muslim women who do not wish to be seen by men need not come out and vote. No matter what its origins may be, the burqa system is a blot on the seemingly liberal character of our society, and far from being a symbol of faith, it is today a glaring symbol of oppression of women. What can be worse, those who support this depravity do so on the grounds of religion, something which is above and beyond any debate.

While it can not be ignored that in some ‘liberated’ Muslim societies where burqas have been banned, women have themselves come forward protesting this ban and asserting their right to sport that particular piece of clothing as a symbol of their faith, I still believe this has been more out blind belief in religious diktat rather than prudence or reason. (The Nobel Prize-winning writer Orhan Pamuk’s novels portray the pro-burqa movement by women in Ataturk’s secular Turkey.) Whatever these women may be fighting for, they are doing little to further the cause of the millions of women who are being subjected to emotional as well as physical torture behind the shadows of the burqa.

Coming back to India, we have a society which has ‘given to itself’ a constitution, which in turn guarantees it the right to freely profess, practise or propagate any religion, subject to public order, morality and health. By this token, an instrument of religion like the burqa which is blatantly immoral in as much as it encourages oppression of women and denies them another fundamental right, that of free expression, ought to be declared as an infringement upon the constitution and comprehensively banned along the lines of other social evils like Sati and untouchability.

There was a time not too long ago in our nation’s history when Indians across religious lines came together to cast off and burn pieces of clothing that had become a symbol of oppression. These were the foreign-manufactured clothes, and their mass burning became a rallying point for the Swadeshi movement and the fight against British rule in India. We may have won that fight, but we are yet to win another one in which once again a piece of clothing has come to symbolize institutionalized oppression against women in our society. Once again, we must cast it off and burn it, not just symbolically, but for good measure. The initiative rests with our brothers and sisters in the Muslim community. They have the option of perpetuating this social evil under the guise of religion, or casting it off once and for all and revealing the truly liberal face of India to the world. Theirs indeed is the historic moment, either to seize or to let pass idly.

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Pope Benedict XVI is all too eager to set his predecessor Pius XII on the fast track to sainthood. The latter is one of the most controversial of popes, particularly because of his alleged relations with the Nazi and Fascist regimes during the Second World War. The Vatican, under his papacy, is also suspected to have facilitated safe passages and refuges for Nazi war criminals. Many historians have written about Pius’s Nazi leanings, and many have also refuted these allegations. Amongst all this confusion, it is indeed difficult to get the true picture, more so because much of it is shrouded in wartime history. We can only believe one camp or the other, but the better thing to do would be to reserve our judgement. Pius’s complicity in the wartime excesses of Nazi Germany is not the real issue here. The point to be considered is that he is perceived as a very controversial figure, and by literary definition alone, not someone on whom the epithet of saint should apply. A saint, after all, is someone who is supposed to be above all controversies. Benedict’s undue eagerness to sanctify him is therefore showing him and the church he represents in a very bad light.

I would however like to question the very institution of sainthood and its relevance in the current times. The award of sainthood is based not on any achievements (though achievements might be a factor in considering the candidate for the award), but rather on the attestation of so-called ‘miracles’ performed by the candidate, either in life or in death. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest hoaxes to be perpetrated on thinking and reasoning minds. In an age in which science is helping us discover the most fantastic secrets about our world and to find solutions to the many problems which plague humanity, the Roman Catholic Church is openly propagating a pseudoscience which traces its origins to the age when rain was considered to be the tears of the rain-god, and the stars the angels’ daisy chain! What is more, one miracle gets you a ‘blessed’ status, while two make you a full-fledged ‘saint’. What can be more ridiculous than this? I wonder if three miracles can make you a demi-god, four a full-time practising god, and five a super-duper-god to beat all other gods! Even assuming for the sake of argument that these miracles are ‘divine’ interventions beyond our grasp, how can the testimony of mere mortals be sufficient to attest their veracity? For these reasons, I also do not see any reason to be upbeat about the prospective sainthood of Mother Teresa, howsoever genuine a social-worker she might have been. Before considering her, the Pope might as well consider P C Sorcar, and I’m sure there are thousands of people in Calcutta itself willing to testify in his favour, myself included!

The story of the human species has been one of a continuous conflict between ignorance and knowledge, the former manifested as religion and the latter as science. Ignorance is necessary in as much as it spurs the quest for knowledge. Thereafter, it must be discarded in favour of the revelations of that quest. With every step that we have taken forward in the scientific direction, religion has been progressively marginalized. With minor local fluctuations, this trend has been consistent so far. The obvious extrapolation of this in the foreseeable future leads us to pose a fundamental question to ourselves – that of the relevance or necessity of religion in human affairs. There are those who perceive this eventual showdown as a threat, and they are the ones who make an institution out of ignorance and champion the cause of religion like naïve candle-makers hoping to make a living in a land of eternal sunshine. Phenomena like ‘miracles’, ‘beatification’ and ‘canonization’ are products of this stupidity, and those who practice or profess them are stupid people.

The conflict between the miraculous and the natural, or between religion and science, is a futile one. “Science is only a Latin word for knowledge”, said the British mathematician Jacob Bronowski, “and knowledge is our destiny.” We, as an intelligent species, are destined to know more and more, and believe less and less. As far as miracles go, my thoughts are best expressed by Joseph Conrad in The Shadow Line:

“All my moral and intellectual being is penetrated by an invincible conviction that whatever falls under the dominion of our senses must be in nature and, however exceptional, cannot differ in its essence from all the other effects of the visible and tangible world of which we are a self-conscious part. The world of the living contains enough marvels and mysteries as it is—marvels and mysteries acting upon our emotions and intelligence in ways so inexplicable that it would almost justify the conception of life as an enchanted state. No, I am too firm in my consciousness of the marvelous to be ever fascinated by the mere supernatural which (take it any way you like) is but a manufactured article, the fabrication of minds insensitive to the intimate delicacies of our relation to the dead and to the living, in their countless multitudes; a desecration of our tenderest memories; an outrage on our dignity.”

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